Our faff-Pak policy: Indian Express

Our faff-Pak policy
Shekhar Gupta, Indian Express, November 14, 2009.
My alma mater of 12 wonderful years in journalism, India Today, just came out with a provocative idea on its cover: Can Pakistan Be Saved? I, however, dare to suggest that in India we need to ask that question a little differently: Should Pakistan Be Saved? Then you can proceed with follow-on questions and corollaries: is it good or bad for us if Pakistan is saved/ not saved? And if we conclude that it is good for us, in fact of vital interest to us, that Pakistan is not only “saved” but emerges a stronger, stabler, moderate, modernising and democratic nation through its current crisis, then we need to think what we can do to help that process.

For too long now both India and Pakistan have had their judgment clouded by contemptuous distrust of each other. The Pakistanis refer to us as their enemies rather more freely. We are a bit more cautious, hypocritical, and non-Punjabi about the use of such direct language. But let’s be honest. Can we deny the fact that every new terror attack on the Pakistani establishment, every development that marks a further decline in the authority of its government is greeted with an utterly unconcealed sense of delight? This is not just the mood of the mobs here. Even the “intelligentsia”, the TV talking heads, opinion page columnists, government spokespersons, all have the same smug air of “I-told-you-so” and “so-what-else-did-they-expect” satisfaction. And they ask the same patronising question: hell, can Pakistan be saved?

One has to be brave, even foolhardy, to go against a flood of such national unanimity. But you have to now debate if it will be good for India that Pakistan continues to slide. Or, do we have the wherewithal to deal with whatever is left behind, if Pakistan does not survive? Can we deal with five anarchic, angry “stans” instead of one next door to us, with no central authority to share a hotline with? Would we prefer to live with a nuclear-armed anarchy that listens to nobody? What use will coercive diplomacy be then? Who will we bomb?

It is time therefore to stop jubilating at the unfolding tragedy in Pakistan. India has to think of becoming a part of the solution. And that solution lies in not merely saving Pakistan — Pakistan will survive. It has evolved a strong nationalism that does bind its people even if that does not reflect in its current internal dissensions. It is slowly building a democratic system, howsoever imperfect. But it has a very robust media and a functional higher judiciary. Also, in its army, it has at least one national institution that provides stability and continuity. The question for us is, what kind of Pakistan do we want to see emerging from this bloodshed? What if fundamentalists of some kind, either religious or military or a combination of both, were to take control of Islamabad? The Americans will always have the option of cutting their losses and leaving. They have a long history of doing that successfully, from Vietnam to Iraq and maybe Afghanistan next. What will be our Plan-B then?

Smugness breeds intellectual laziness. Maybe that is why we feel so comforted with the idea of outsourcing the responsibility of stabilising and moderating the Pakistani state and society to the Americans. We talk of their Af-Pak strategy as if it is some funny superpower game being played some place far, far away. We laugh at their failures just as we smile the cynical “didn’t-I-know-it-was-coming” smile each time Islamabad receives a knock from its own terrorists. This is delusional. As the Americans would say, the sooner we get off this kerb, the better.

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